Sometimes, we all need to pause and catch our breath. Life can get messy, especially with young kids and winter bugs, the pressures of work and the strain of finances. And it’s easy to forget, through all this glorious chaos, just what you’ve achieved. Or how much you’ve grown. Or what you’ve learned along the way.
So, this post is about reflection. A chance to jot down some of the obstacles we’ve faced, and the solutions we came up with, in the hopes it might help someone else to navigate these wild waters with a little more control.
"There was no release and no relief. Which is also why we started MINT. What else was there to do, while at home with young children, unable to work, but start a brand?"
CHALLENGE #1: LOCKDOWNS
When we conceptualised MINT at the start of 2020, the only thing we knew about COVID-19 was that someone had caught something from a bat in a market in China. Or so we were told. The residents of Wuhan were locked down and no one could leave their home.
And then, it happened to us.
Country by country, restrictions were put in place. Curfews. Masks. Sanitisation. Social distancing.
Our snow globe of life had been tipped and shaken, and all the normal everyday occurrences like going to work, taking the kids on play dates, and having a cold one at the local, whirled restlessly around us.
Shops closed. Restaurants closed. Schools closed. In fact, everything closed. The core of Melbourne, where I was living at the time, had been thoroughly scooped out. Life seemed so different to the fast-paced existence of before.
Now, we had mandatory masks. An hour of exercise a day. Only one person allowed to go grocery shopping. A 5km radius that you dare not break for fear of a hefty fine. Nothing was open except essential services – supermarkets and pharmacies.
And then came the Great Australian Toilet Paper Shortage.
People stockpiled rolls of it. Fought over it. Went crazy over damn loo paper. There were snaking queues first thing in the morning. Restrictions on how many you could take.
It happened for other things, too. Rice and pasta. Tuna. Nappies. Flour.
We sanitised everywhere. We wore gloves. We sanitised some more. And on it went until my knuckles turned dry and my four-year-old daughter knew not to touch her face unless her hands smelled of disinfectant.
There was no release and no relief. Which is also why we started MINT. What else was there to do, while at home with young children, unable to work, but start a brand?
It was the perfect storm.
Me in Melbourne, Rocky in Manly and Jerome in France. We zoomed late at night, or at the crack of dawn, the cries of a newborn in the background, our children’s art hung proudly behind us. We used that time at home to research, test and develop the fabric, leg lengths, compositions, waistbands and colours.
Every morning, I’d wake up and work out on my balcony. I’d push myself to exhaustion, just so I could see where the sweat patches were, madly taking notes and comparing my sketches with Rocky and Jerome, who had also done the same. It’s where the idea for the mesh cool zones came from, and why the panel at the back had to be precisely 3.5cm.
It was ambitious to start something amid a global pandemic. Risky, and a little crazy. But for us, lockdown became a golden opportunity to work on MINT full time.
CHALLENGE #2: GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES
This one affected most, if not all, businesses who imported product from overseas. You only had to flick on the news to hear about the lengthy port delays, with some ships being forced to turn around and dock somewhere else, or simply lay idle off the coast of New Zealand.
Not being able to get stock meant the launch date was pushed out. First by one month, then another, then six. Add to that the very lengthy lockdown in Melbourne, and we had a problem. How on earth were we supposed to get product, store it, pack it and send it?
The answer was to have boots on the ground, in Auckland.
So that’s what we did.
With a four-year-old and six-month-old in tow, my wife and I packed up our lives after 12 years in Aussie and headed home to help launch MINT.
To be fair, it wasn’t the only reason. Restrictions in Victoria were the longest and harshest in the world. We were tired. We were over it. And we wanted our lives back.
Managed isolation, while tiresome and completely boring, was another chance to sort out final details. The photoshoot, the talent, the website, and all the million other little details you don’t know about until you’re in waist deep.
But when we came out the other side, everything was ready to go.
Everything except the actual underwear. Because, supply chain issues. So we pushed back and pushed back, and tinkered with ideas. How do we make the launch memorable? How do we flip this on its head?
And that is when the idea hit.
Let’s make underwear a sensory experience. Not just the curved tube, or the beautifully rolled undies inside.
But the smell.
So yes, the process to launch was long and windy. But it forced us to think outside the square. To be innovative and creative. To come with something novel in an industry that hadn’t really changed much.
CHALLENGE #3: DIVERSITY
This one isn’t a challenge, but a learning.
We always knew, from the very start, that MINT would be a brand to champion diversity and inclusion. It was a given, especially growing up in an era where boys and men didn’t talk about their bodies. Or their feelings.
In fact, absolutely none of the male models looked like our family and friends. And it was impossible to find good quality underwear from big name brands in larger sizes.
As we got older, we saw the women’s body confidence movement gaining momentum with brands like Dove taking up the mantle of loving the skin you’re in. But there was nothing for men.
The consequences, we know now, are far-reaching.
- One in eight Kiwi men will experience severe depression in their lifetime
- Young people in New Zealand are struggling to see their self-worth, with 46% choosing body image as their top concern
- Poor body image, social pressure to look a certain way, and poor coping strategies for anxiety are leading to an increase in eating disorders for young people
When we came up with MINT, the ethos just flowed: Every Man’s A MINT Man.
It’s a revolutionary statement for an industry dominated by harmful stereotypes, lack of diversity and representation, and outdated notions of male beauty ideals.
And it’s exactly why we choose Kiwi men of all ages, shapes and sizes for our photoshoots. Because it bucks societal norms, challenges male model stereotypes, and empowers men to embrace their bodies and feel confident in their own skin from the moment they put on their underwear.
We knew it was the right thing to do.
But what we didn’t expect was the response. Our community is phenomenal. They’re a bunch of like-minded, forward-thinking, tolerant and accepting individuals who believe, like us, that all men deserve to feel confident. All men deserve to see themselves represented. And all men are worthy of self-love.
There’s been loads of feedback since we launched. And a few really struck a chord. Like this hand-written letter from Finn, a 16-year-old student from the United States.
Finn was responding to one of our ads featuring our original MINT Men. It was a stark reminder of how important representation really is.
This is some of what Finn had to say:
“When I explore corners of the Internet, it’s really not very often I come across an ad that speaks to me as much as this one. It’s nice to see something I can relate to for a change. I think it’s a great thing that companies like yours are standing up and standing out to make a difference in the world.”
And then there was a young man who was struggling with his mental health. Our MoveMINT stories resonated:
“I never thought I’d be following an underwear brand on my Instagram. But, as a trans man, all your stories have helped me tremendously. Men, not matter who they are, no matter their background, race, sexuality, or anything else, should NEVER have to hide their emotions and pain for the façade of appearing strong. Thank you so much for sharing this message! More people need to hear it!”
There are many others.
But what we’ve learned from all this is that strong and positive representation can help break down stereotypes that are both detrimental and limiting to society.
We’ve learned that post-pandemic, there’s never been a more pressing need. And that our brand goes far beyond just the product itself.
To all the men who have stripped down for our photoshoots, shared their very personal stories, helped us to celebrate Kiwi culture, and shed light on the men’s body confidence movement, we say thank you.
Because of you, we’re making a positive and lasting dent in the underwear industry.
-Bayon, MINT co-founder